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Looking back at the Nail Yakupov era

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Ryley Delaney
5 months ago
When the Edmonton Oilers hosted the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, a team in their own Decade of Darkness, spinning their wheels in the mud, it got me thinking of the Oilers of the past. Specially, the career of Nail Yakupov. 
Let’s be real here, the 2012 draft, which was the third consecutive year the Oilers had the first overall pick, was a weak draft. Without question, Yakupov is one of the biggest busts in NHL history, but all four of the first four picks are out of the league. 
Ryan Murray, who last played for Edmonton, is an unrestricted free agent. Alex Galchenyuk has joined his Sarnia Sting teammate in Russia, while former Oiler Griffin Reinhart is retired after playing for the Belfast Giants in 2021-22.
That leaves Morgan Rielly as the only top-five pick in the 2012 draft still remaining in the league, and he’s arguably the best player from the draft, with 11th overall pick Filip Forsberg and 17th overall pick Tomáš Hertl also deserving of recognition.
However, it didn’t always appear to be that way, as Yakupov showed glimpses of his true potential early in his career.

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Yakupov’s rookie season was amazing:

If you recall, the 2012-13 season was actually only played in 2013, as the lockout didn’t end until early January of that same year. That means that there were only 48 games played, all against the same conference.
It’s easily forgotten just because of how low everyone’s totals were, but Yakupov actually had a fantastic rookie campaign. Jumping straight to the NHL as a 19-year-old after 22 games played with 10 goals and 18 points in the KHL, Yakupov scored a career-high 17 goals while also picking up 31 points. He had a .65 point-per-game pace in his rookie season, by far the highest pace in his career.
It’s also worth mentioning that the 19-year-old rookie led the Oilers team in scoring. For context, this was the only Oiler team in the decade of darkness to actually be competitive and push for a playoff spot, as they were eighth in the Western Conference as of April 3, 2013, with less than a month remaining on the season. This was all I had as a 14-year-old Oiler fan, as I only started cheering for the team in early 2008.
Yakupov’s 31 points as well as tying Jonathan Huberdeau for the lead in rookie points. While the future Flame won the Calder Trophy with 14 goals and 17 points, Yakupov somehow only finished fifth in voting for that year, one of the biggest snubs in recent memories.
Now, the 2012-13 season was incredibly memorable for a few events. In the last game of the season against the Vancouver Canucks, Yakupov scored his first and only hat trick in a 7-2 win against their rivals. Coming into this game, he was tied with Jordan Eberle with 14 goals, and Eberle himself also had two goals in the game.
The other notable event from this game is what Nail Yakupov is remembered for other than being a bust. Los Angeles leads 1-0 with just over a minute remaining, and Edmonton has their net pulled. Sam Gagner (in his first tour) absolutely obliterates a King in front of the net, and then is nudged into Jonathan Quick, who spins around and gets Gagner caught in him.

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After a lengthy delay and about a minute ticked off the clock, Edmonton is down to their last gasp with about 10 seconds left. They win the faceoff, the puck finds its way to Yakupov as the Oilers are just throwing everything at the net, and the rookie bats it out of mid-air with just over five seconds left while also busting out the slide down the ice. 

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Of course, the success in Edmonton was short-lived, as head coach Ralph Kruger was fired despite coaching a team that was in a playoff spot with around 10 games remaining. To replace Kruger, the Oilers hired Dallas Eakins, and you could tell that his coaching style immediately impacted Yakupov negatively, as Yakupov was the type of winger who excelled when he didn’t need to focus on being even average defensively.
You can’t pin all the blame on Eakins, but sometimes I’m left wondering when falling asleep what would’ve happened if Kruger remained in charge.

Nail Yakupov post 2012-13:

The next two seasons for Yakupov weren’t great. In 144 games, he had 25 goals and 57 points, finishing those two seasons with an abysmal -68. He set a career-high in points in the 2014-15 season where he had 14 goals and 33 points, but this was done in 81 games, far below his point-per-game pace in 2012-13.
Yakupov started off the 2015-16 season reasonably well, scoring two goals and 12 points in his first 22 games. At one point during this stretch, he had a seven-game point streak before going cold from Halloween 2015 to the injury. Yes, that injury.

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The Russian returned in mid-January, actually scoring in his first game back, and finished that stretch of the season with six goals and 11 points in 38 games, far worse than prior to the injury. In total, Yakupov had eight goals and 23 points in 60 games, by far his worst season up until this point.
In the off-season, the Oilers traded Yakupov to the Blues for Zach Pochiro and a third-round pick in 2017. That pick was moved to Arizona to move up four spots to select Stuart Skinner, a pretty good move all things considered.
In his remaining two seasons in the NHL, Yakupov spent time with St. Louis and Colorado, scoring 12 goals and 25 points in 98 games. He never reached double-digits in goals again, nor did he even hit the 20-point mark in his final two seasons. In July 2018, the former first-overall pick headed back to his home country.

Nail Yakupov’s return to Russia:

Yakupov had a great homecoming in Russia, scoring 23 goals and 33 points in 47 games with St. Petersburg SKA. The following season, he scored 10 goals and 20 points in 46 games before the pandemic shut down the KHL.
Over the next three seasons in Russia, Yakupov never hit the double-digit mark again and was traded twice after signing a three-year deal after the 23-goal season. Before the start of the ongoing KHL season, Yakupov signed with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik, where he has eight goals and 19 points in 31 games. 
With 48 of 68 games played so far for Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik, Yakupov is on pace for 13 goals and 31 points, which would be his second-best season in the KHL, and the first time he’s had double-digit goals since 2019-20. 

It’s a tale of what could have been:

There’s no debating it, Nail Yakupov was a bust. However, there were certain events, such as the firing of Kruger, or a very unfortunate injury after strong play, that could have given the Russian-born forward a different outlook on his career.
Still, we’re thankful for the memories that Yakupov provided us in 2012-13 and we hope nothing but the best for him moving forward.

If you enjoy my content, you can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D. I literally wrote this article because it kept popping into my mind when I couldn’t sleep on Friday night.

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